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Posted on 15/03/2021 by Room to GrowRoom to Grow
Do your children have problems with falling to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night? If they do it’s possible that the reason is their diet. In fact, diet is the number one cause of sleep problems among children and controlling what they eat, especially around bedtime, is vital if you want them to be able to get the sleep that they need in order to learn and grow at a normal rate.
Problems with diet and sleep can begin very early in childhood when parents, thinking that feeding and sleeping go hand in hand, feed their children to get them to go to sleep. What can happen is that the child will start to associate the act of sleeping with the act of eating. Experts advise that, rather than feeding and expecting the child to sleep right away, a baby should sometimes be put to sleep even if it hasn’t eaten.
It can get even worse if the baby doesn’t have a regular feeding schedule and naps on and off all day long, eating only small portions as the day progresses. This causes the child to never fully get enough deep sleep and never be fully awake either, something that can cause an unhealthy connection between food and sleeping that, in some cases, can continue through to the teen and even adult years.
Diet, lifestyle and sleep all go hand in hand. We all know how important diet and exercise is for our health and our children’s health however sleep also plays a massive role in this. Studies have shown that sleep problems and obesity are closely interlinked therefore it is essential to consider sleep as a contributing factor alongside diet and exercise. So, we know all these aspects of health are linked but what kind of effect do they have on one another? When it comes to children’s diet, we are very conscious of what foods are considered to be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ for them but it is also important to consider how specific foods affect sleep and sleep quality.
Research shows that there are different foods which can have an impact on sleep in many different ways. For children, there is an emphasis on the types of foods consumed and the times they are consumed:
The national sleep foundation reports that the more sugar consumed during the day, the more often you will wake up throughout the night. Children are often sugar fiends, so it is important to regulate their sugar intake. Obviously, children love sweet foods so it is not to say you should stop them have sweet treats entirely but limiting them especially close to bedtime can help them to have an improved nights sleep. It is also important to note that a high sugar intake can lead to an energy crash which could cause children to nap in the afternoon which then may interrupt their sleep at night.
A high caffeine intake can interrupt anyone’s sleep, but for children it is even more likely. Limited caffeine intake is incredibly important for children for many reasons but especially due to the impact it has on their sleep.
For adults, it is advised to have no caffeine after 2pm, but for children they shouldn’t have high amounts of caffeine where it is not necessary. There is caffeine in a lot of food and drink so it can’t be avoided entirely but try to limit their intake to special occasions.
Suddenly switching to a high or low-fat diet can impact the body’s natural sleep cycle as it can alter the circadian rhythm, essentially resetting our body clocks. In generally fatty foods don’t have too much impact on sleep except from when they are consumed too close to bedtime. Foods that are higher in fats are generally tough for the stomach to digest, especially in children. Eating fatty food too close to bedtime therefore often leads to indigestion making sleep unlikely.
Just like eating fatty foods at night can prevent sleep, eating any large meals too close to bedtime can stop children getting a good night’s sleep. This is why it is recommended to have a bigger meal at breakfast and lunch and a smaller meal at night. However, we know this may not be possible for children; so it is advised to have an early tea and have light, easily digested snacks at bedtime such as wholegrains or fruits.
Everything in moderation is a good rule of thumb when it comes to children and their diets, but it is important to understand how diet can have an impact on various aspects of a child’s life and plan accordingly.
Inadequate sleep may be the causative factor in the increase in toddler obesity and obesity in pre-school children. The fact is, children who don’t get the right nutrition and they don’t get the right amount of rest or the ‘good’ kind of sleep like REM sleep they are going to be more prone to obesity, diabetes and other unhealthy risks later in life.
One of the biggest factors in sleep problems with kids is the fact that many are drinking sugar filled drinks and eating sugar filled snacks near or right before bedtime. Sugar is a stimulant, as well as the caffeine that is found in many drinks like Coca Cola and Pepsi, both of which can cause a child to be more awake and active at bed time rather than tired and ready for sleep.
What the sleep experts recommend is this; a predictable and scheduled meal-time every day, a bedtime routine every night that sets the standard for when lights-out is expected and sufficient sleep time for the age of the child. (More when they are younger and less as they get older.) No sugar and absolutely no caffeine before bedtime and, if possible, nothing to eat at all less than 4 hours before going to bed.
Follow these guidelines and your children should not only get the amount of sleep they need but also healthy, deep sleep that they require to really recover from the previous day’s adventures and be ready for the day ahead.
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